In this edition of I-talk we consider the role of Europe’s kings and queens.
*Presenter Alex Taylor:* “There are 12 European countries that have their own monarchy. Do our kings and queens serve any purpose or should we behead these anachronistic institutions once again?
“To answer your questions, whether you are a subject or a citizen, please welcome the European king of aristocracy, Stéphane Bern, joining us from Paris.”
*Stéphane Bern, royal expert:* “Hello Alex, hello everyone!”
*Alex Taylor:* “So you know our programme: short questions, quick answers. Let’s start with this rather basic question.”
*Question:* “Hello, my name is Owen Brown, I am from Belgium and I would like to know: what’s the use of having a King? Thank you.”
Stéphane Bern: “Listen, a king’s role may seem simply decorative, but it’s like a cornerstone: you remove it, and the whole building collapses. In a way, he is the cement of a nation, an ambassador, a national symbol which brings people together. He’s like a referee, and a referee cannot be the captain of either team, I think football fans will understand the metaphor perfectly.”
*Alex Taylor:* “Yes, but there are some nations that do perfectly well without, such as yours, Stéphane Bern…”
*Stéphane Bern:* “Well, precisely. If things were going that smoothly, they would be completely different. We wouldn’t have, at the heart of our political debate, questions about identity in power. You see how people tear each other apart in a political party. At the very top of the state, you need to rise above that.
“On the one hand, there is the symbolism of nation and state, and on the other, there is the life of a government and shifts in power. You see that in Spain, in the United Kingdom, in Belgium, and it works quite well. The main thing is to preserve the unity of a nation, to preserve its identity, especially abroad. For example, you see some kings acting as ambassadors, as salesmen for their country, especially in times of crisis. They take their suitcases and go and sell their national label all over the world, and they open doors to trade, because in a way, they have become luxury salesmen.”
*Alex Taylor:* “Another question on I-Talk for Stéphane Bern.”
*Question:* “I am Antoine from Lyon, France. Can you tell me why people from countries without a monarchy are fascinated by nations that have one?”
*Alex Taylor:* “It’s true that in nations like France, for example, people are fascinated by what’s happening in Great Britain in particular. Why is that?”
*Stéphane Bern:* “There are two reasons for that. On the one hand, I think they feel secretly guilty for having decapitated our King, so there is a kind of fascination…”
*Alex Taylor:* “Still today?“
*Stéphane Bern:* “Well, I don’t feel that way but I can understand it. And then, there is the fact that we ask our head of state to be both Queen of England, and David Cameron prime minister. There’s this permanent schizophrenia. But it’s true that General de Gaulle used to say: “The French have a taste for princes but they always go and fetch them abroad.”
“At the same time, countries that have a monarchy are always a bit critical, but that’s probably because they have a bit of an accountant’s view of things, especially in times of crisis. They wonder, how much does a monarchy cost? Well, it has to be said, it’s three times cheaper than a republic because there are no presidential elections. And, most importantly, it generates five times more, thanks to tourism and all the trading contracts I was telling you about, which are signed thanks to the monarch, who will guarantee these contracts over time.“
*Alex Taylor:* “Now we have a written question from Inma in Spain: so why is it that countries which have a king or a queen are usually very pro-monarchy, and no criticism is tolerated in the media? Can we talk about censorship?”
*Stéphane Bern:* “On the contrary, there is absolutely no censorship. We saw that, for example, in Spain, where people in Catalonia burned royal effigies. Of course there is criticism. We also saw that with the Spanish King’s hunting accident: the King was obliged - this had never happened before – a head of state, who goes on television to apologise to the Spanish people for acting in bad taste, for a political mistake, even though he’s also a man who has done remarkable things during his reign. Still, he apologised for something he was criticised for. So, I think it’s easy to criticise, and everybody does criticise monarchies, especially as they can’t really answer back. Kings and princes in Europe don’t answer back. I try to defend them because I think it’s too easy to just criticise them all the time for having a power, which is symbolic. It’s not a political power, it’s a symbolic power, a moral power and we need this kind of symbolic power, one which guarantees the respect of all the citizens.
“Now, let me ask a question: why are Europe’s monarchies always at the cutting edge of modernity? Look at the Scandinavian and British monarchies, they are always ahead of countries like France when it comes to the evolution of customs and way of life, gay marriage for example. When it comes to questions about society, all these monarchies are ahead of republics. It’s surprising, isn’t it?”
*Alex Taylor:* “If you too have questions to ask or want to answer Stéphane Bern, please go to our website. Another question about royalty.”
*Question:* “Hi, I’m Wes, I’m from the sunny UK. I’ve recently seen in the news that the Spanish and the Swedish royal families both had legal problems and I would like to know if that’s going to have an effect on public support?”
*Alex Taylor:* “Well, the gaffes of Karl Gustav of Sweden, the Spanish King’s son-in-law caught up in an embezzlement scandal, that’s not great for monarchy in general, for their image?”
*Stéphane Bern:* “Well, obviously, you can ask questions about the various scandals affecting different monarchies.
Listen, as long as there is no illicit conflict of interest, as long as the monarch does his work properly, and doesn’t make any faux pas, then he won’t be criticised. It’s true that a monarchy is first and foremost a ruling family, so you can criticise the son-in-law’s behaviour, but you see, in Spain, you cut down the branches once they are dead. For example, the king broke off all relations with his son-in-law whose behaviour he criticised, even though the case has not gone to court yet, so we will see what happens.
“As for the Swedish king’s private life, it doesn’t affect his position as King of Sweden in any way.”
*Alex Taylor:* “Maybe, but it’s not great for him as a symbol, as a brand name representing his country…”
*Stéphane Bern:* “Indeed, as a symbol representing his country, you can criticise him for a number of things, but some of them go back thirty years. I think that, in that time, he has matured, he has left behind his reputation as a ladies’ man and a naughty prince, and has really accomplished his mission: Sweden’s monarchy is very popular, just look at the crowds that gathered for Victoria and Daniel’s wedding! I was there myself, and I can tell you that the Swedish people are behind their monarchy. So, I think there is no regime crisis there, there is no identity crisis threatening the royal family.
“There may be more serious crises in Spain for instance, with Catalonia’s and other breakaway movements. There is Belgium, whose King is the cement of the nation, and maybe also the Queen of Britain: can she guarantee that Scotland will remain part of the UK? Those are the real questions, I think, not whether the king had an extra-marital affair thirty years ago.”
*Alex Taylor:* “A final, more personal question for Stéphane Bern on I-talk.”
*Question:* “Hello, I am Marin. I am Belgian, and I would like to know, Mr Stéphane Bern, you who are so familiar with royalty, why are you so interested in the monarchy?”
*Alex Taylor:* “Would you have liked to be king?”
*Stéphane Bern:* “No, absolutely not. I have no nobility fantasy, nor royal, nor princely. It’s just that my family comes from Luxembourg, and the Luxembourg monarchy – the Grand-Ducal family – has always defended Luxembourg’s independence and identity. It’s very important because my family was forced to leave Luxembourg during the war when the Nazis invaded the country in May 1940. And the Grand Duchess Charlotte really embodied resistance against the Nazi enemy. Those are things you cannot forget when you have been through such hardship, I was brought up in that spirit: that our Grand-Ducal family defended our identity, our sovereignty, our independence against many of our powerful neighbours. So if we, Luxemburgers, still exist as a nation – I am still half Luxemburger – well, it’s thanks to our Grand-Ducal family, that’s how I got so interested in royalty. One day, I found out I was also French, so I tried to see where the merits of each lay, and I studied History. And when you learn about your history, you learn about where you come from and maybe also about where you’re going.”
*Alex Taylor:* “Thank you very much Stéphane Bern, joining us from Paris. Our thanks to the European Parliament’s audiovisual department here in Brussels.
“You can find out who our future guests will be by going to our website, please don’t hesitate to ask a question. See you soon, on euronews.”